Laura Whitcomb and the magic of Halloween

Laura WhitcombWe’re delighted to welcome Laura Whitcomb to the Debutante Ball today. Laura’s the author of two young adult novels: A Certain Slant of Light, which has been optioned for a movie by Warner Brothers; and The Fetch, which Booklist called “fascinating” and “exquisitely imagined” in a starred review. She co-wrote the popular writing how-to, Your First Novel, with literary agent Ann Rittenberg. And Laura’s most recent how-to, Novel Shortcuts, was published earlier this year. Be sure to visit her regular blog. Thanks and welcome, Laura.

Why I like Halloween . . .

Ever since I can remember, I’ve been in love with Halloween. Maybe you’d think it was the treats. When I was a kid we didn’t have candy very often at our house — only on holidays or vacations — so it was deeply appealing to end up with a full bag of Hershey’s chocolate and pixie stix. Maybe you’d think it was the costumes — I loved dressing up and we had trunks full of old gowns, hats, and props in the cellar. Maybe you’d think it was the celebration — the last school day before the 31st was always fabulous: story time with the lights turned down, special songs in minor keys, and on your desk after last recess a collection of orange and black cup cakes, cookies, and pop corn balls secreted in by stealthy moms.

But I think my love of the holiday was more about that magical combination of light and dark. My earliest Halloween memory, the October I was three, I remember stepping out our front door after dark, dressed as a princess in a flower girl gown and fake crown, flanked by my sisters who were 9 and 11. It was wonderful. I was entering a world of shadows and mystery (and I’ll admit I was a bit of a scared-cat) but with my protectors beside me, I was safe. Children darted by on the sidewalks dressed as skeletons and monsters, but underneath I knew they were just children like us. Peoples’ yards were thick with cardboard tombstones and pipe cleaner spiders, but when we knocked and the doors opened, faces beamed at us as sweet as those of our own aunts and uncles.

I liked the light — the laughter and sweets and playfulness of it all. But honestly, I found I preferred the darkness between streetlights. I liked not knowing precisely who was behind each mask. I liked the corny taped sound effects of moaning spirits and even the neighbors who opened their doors with wolfman masks on and made me hide my face. I loved how even the kids in the lightest, easiest to see costumes — white sheets and pale fairy dresses — would fade like ghosts as they moved down the block. I loved the glow of jagged toothed jack-o-lanterns in the blackness and the smell of burning pumpkins and wax, of rotting dead leaves in the gutters and cinnamon cider. I loved the dizzying tracks of flashlights dancing like sprites, leading us through the night.

So, I guess it’s not surprising that I grew up to write about ghosts and Fetchess or that on Halloween this year, after a spooky bookstore reading, I’ll be hosting my tenth Supernatural Tea Party. Can’t help myself; every October I become a kid again. — Laura Whitcomb

5 Replies to “Laura Whitcomb and the magic of Halloween”

  1. Great post. And I tell all of the up-and-coming writers I meet to read ‘Your First Novel.’ That book helped me find my agent and deal with everything that followed. Thanks!

  2. Your descriptions are so vivid that I was immediately transported back to my old neighbourhood when I was a kid trick-or-treating. Of course, what stands out the most was when my mom, brother, and I returned and thought we’d trick my dad by ringing our OWN doorbell. He answered, wearing my mum’s orange paisley free-flowing full-length dress with head scarf – complete with his 1970’s hippie beard. The laugh was on us that time! Thanks for joining us at the Debs!

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